Three senior centers to be renovated

Population surge seen driving need to enlarge

June 16, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

In response to a surge in its elderly population, Carroll County is undertaking major renovation projects at three senior citizen centers.

In Taneytown, 7,200 square feet of unused space will be transformed into classrooms, a health suite and a large multipurpose room for line dancing, tai chi classes and community meetings. Forty parking spaces will be added to Greenmount's North Carroll Senior Activities Center. And in Eldersburg, South Carroll Senior Activities Center will get much-needed cosmetic surgery.

The drive to renovate three of the county's five senior centers -- the other two are in Mount Airy and Westminster -- occurs at a time of rapid growth in the elderly population. The number of Carroll residents older than 60 has grown from 17,078 in 1990 to 21,058 in 1997, the latest figures available. Seniors make up about 13 percent of the county's population of 150,000.

The increase is expected to continue. County planners predict that the number of Carroll residents over the age of 60 will reach 48,169 by 2020 and account for 24 percent of the county's population.

"We have a very diverse population of older people in Carroll County," said Janet B. Flora, bureau chief for the county Bureau of Aging. "We try to meet their needs with a wide range of services, from nutrition education and insurance counseling to oil painting lessons and ceramics classes."

The broad range of services is attracting more seniors to the county-owned centers. Participation has quadrupled in the past 25 years, county figures show.

In Taneytown, older residents flock to the senior center's bridge games and billiard contests. Line dancing has also become a favorite, but space constraints limit the size of dance classes. Lessons are held in the center's dining hall, forcing couples to tiptoe around numerous hazards such as tables, chairs and concrete columns.

"It got so bad, I stopped coming to class," said Betty Naylor, 68. "I ran into a pole. There just isn't enough room. We really need more space."

"We're all very excited about the project," said Joyce Green, 61. "The worst thing for seniors is inactivity. The more active they are, the healthier they are. I think this project will be good for the county. Save the taxpayers money in medical costs that the insurance companies won't cover."

The Taneytown center is expected to undergo a complete transformation, more than doubling its size of 5,000 square feet during the next two years. The proposed project would cost $276,000.

Flora is seeking permission to apply for a state grant that would cover 50 percent of the cost. County commissioners are expected to decide on her request in the next two weeks.

"It seems to me we should apply for the money" from the state Department of Aging, said Commissioner Robin B. Frazier.

Her colleagues, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Julia Walsh Gouge, suggested passing on the state funding possibility and proceeding with the project immediately.

"We've been promising the people in Taneytown for some time that we would renovate that senior center," said Gouge. "I think it's time we move forward."

Even if the county were awarded state funding, Taneytown would not see the money for a year, meaning the project would be delayed until next summer, when the commissioners were hoping to complete construction.

Though Taneytown's plan may be pushed back, parking lot expansion in North Carroll is on schedule, Flora said. The small parking lot is expected to triple in size, from 20 spaces to about 60, by summer's end.

"There are people who aren't coming here anymore because there's no parking," said Frances Barnes, a longtime center volunteer. "They drive through the lot and just keep going. It's difficult for them to park too far away. Some people use walkers or are in wheelchairs."

Said center director Renee DeAico, "On days when we have bingo or live music, people park at the library and on the grass. The Carroll Transit buses can't turn around properly because people are parking in the wrong place."

The county budgeted $21,394 for the parking project, for which a contractor has not yet been selected.

Eldersburg's South Carroll Senior Activities Center is expected to get a long-awaited face lift in 2001, with planning scheduled to begin this fall.

"The size of the center is adequate, but it is a building sorely in need of updating," Flora said of the 9,300-square-foot facility. "The exterior is cinder block, and the kitchen is antiquated. It could use some cozying up."

Flora said she would like to start gathering data and community suggestions for the renovation project this fall. If all goes well, construction on the old school building would begin in the next two years.

Pub Date: 6/16/99

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